loaded up and ready to go

After a great and incredibly informative outing with Sam Bennett the day before, I headed back out to the river. This time, my kayak was strapped to my roof, and my car was chock full of gear. The only time I’d kayaked the Fox was in the fall, right at I-90. At the time there was almost no current and I didn’t manage to land a single fish…. But after many trips to the river, I had more experience and a better idea where to find them. Hanging out with Sam certainly didn’t hurt my understanding of the river either.

I figured I’d launch near my usual stretch of the river, and paddle around looking for good spots. Although I’ve caught smallies holding close to shore in practically no current, most of them have come from seams, relating to the current. Seams, I’m fairly positive, are the things between two different currents; the area where a faster current and a slower current meet. It seems to me smallies like to hang out on either side of a seam, perhaps catching a quick bite as the conveyor-belt-like current delivers snacks to their mouths. I had a fairly good idea where to find them; now the task was to locate these places in the kayak and fish them.

I managed to bring my kayak and all my gear to the river in two short trips from my car. My kayak is light enough I can carry it on one shoulder, so I can fill my other arm with paddles, rods, and even my anchor. Looking at my watch I noticed I was in the water, in the kayak, exactly one hour after leaving my driveway in Itasca. That’s pretty good! Only took me about 15 minutes to get the kayak off my car, take it to the water, rig up the rod holders, paddle, rods, tackle backpack, anchor, and then suit in my waders.

my kayak, fully loaded and ready to do some fishing

Immediately I realized this wouldn’t be as easy as I’d been imagining; most of my kayaking has been done in little or no current. As soon as I paddled out into the river, the relentless current began to push me downstream. I paddled furiously, but watching the trees on the bank stand motionless, I realized I wasn’t actually going anywhere. I looked down and saw the bottom of the river about a foot under the water. Instead of paddling like a madman against the current, I just hopped out of the kayak. I tied a line to the aft of the yak, and clipped it to my vest. Although the current pushed the kayak downstream, my body weight kept it from getting away from me.

I had visions of the clip snapping and watching my prized boat quickly float down the river away from me. I wondered if I’d run after it. I wondered if I would eventually find it at the bottom of a dam farther downstream…

I worked my way upstream, trying out a variety of lu res. This time I brought three rods with me- my kayak was like a fancy rod holder, holding all my gear so I didn’t have to wear it all. One on I snapped crankbaits onto a swivel snap; one I tied on jigs (twister tails and tubes); and on the third I rigged a slip bobber with a 1″ gulp alive minnow. I’ve been hearing great things about these little minnows, so earlier in the day I picked some up at Dick’s. It was so great to be able to quickly try out a different lure without having to retie.

I made my way close to the first spot Sam and I visited the day before. This time I could work the eddy from the opposite side- standing in the water I seemed to have a much better angle of attack. With a white twister, I cast right into the seam about 5 feet from the bank of a little island. Immediately I got a small hit, but my hook set launched the jig out of the water instead of into the fish.

Well at least I found some fish!

I keep thinking about something I’ve read repeatedly- 90% of the fish are in 10% of the water. Who knows if this is true, it did come from the internet after all. But based on my limited experience, this absolutely seems to be true. It makes me all the more prouder when out of the entire river at my disposal, I manage to find that 10% where there are actually fish. I didn’t give myself a pat on the back though, since I’d missed that fish.

No matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to give me a second chance for a picture of the two of us. I slowly waded toward the eddy, towing my kayak behind me.

I noticed a few people fly fishing across the river. They were talking very loudly (something I didn’t think fly fishermen did) but they were having a good time.

I waded through the eddy, trying to get some more fish to bite. Nobody wanted my gulp minnow under a slip bobber, something I was pretty disappointed about. I’d have to try it at the pond later… [I actually did try it later that night, and I watched bluegill come up and stare at it. The same thing happened a few weeks ago after a cold front- it’s one thing to read about cold front fishing on the internet, another to see a bluegill refuse some delicious bait.]

Confident there were no fish to be had in the immediate area, I hopped into my kayak and started to paddle upstream. Difficult does not even begin to describe how it was trying to paddle upstream through a small break in two little islands. The current was so strong, my weak kayaking arms were no match. And then, paying attention to the various currents and seams, I managed to move the kayak into an area of slightly slower current. Slowly but surely, I was gaining inches against the river! After a few minutes I made it past the current and eddy, and was on the other side.

I fished for a moment before I realized the current was taking me back where I had just been! Quickly paddling, I made my way to a little gravel bar and “parked” the kayak on the rocks.

Nothing there, I continued paddling upstream. I was now in an area I think might be called “flats”- a large area without much current or change in depth. And then BAM! BAMBAM! I ran right into a giant boulder. My kayak tipped, the current trying to convince it to capsize, a stream of profanity came from my mouth. I got the boat level, and tried to paddle around the rock.

Losing the battle, I decided to step out of the kayak and tow it upstream instead, as I had done earlier. As soon as I tried getting out, one leg in the water and one in the kayak, the current ripped the kayak downstream, and I started to do the splits in the river. I grabbed a rope I’d tied to the stern, bringing the boat closer and easing my burning thighs. Finally I got my other foot out of the yak, and was standing in the flats.

I saw what I guessed was a carp swimming around; I was pretty sure carp like to hang out in shallow flats like this. Later in my nonstop internet fishing research I read walleyes also like to hang out in flats at dawn and dusk- I’d have to remember this spot.

As I slowly waded upstream, I cast a bit but didn’t expect much. There wasn’t much cover or current, I doubted there would be any smallies here. Although I really want to catch a carp, I wasn
‘t sure how to approach it with the selection of lures I had with me. I noticed the sky was now dark and ominous; actually it had been getting darker all along, but I’d been too busy almost flipping my kayak to notice.

I saw a few sprinkles come down, and then more, and then it was outright raining. No thunder though, so I figured I’d be fine. Then it started to REALLY rain. Heavy, cold raindrops falling straight down into my open kayak, onto my flannel fleece and Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale hat. For whatever reason, I decided perhaps I should head closer to the shore, maybe even downstream closer to my car… Just in case I wanted to quickly exit the river.

It’s amazing how quickly one can move with the current downstream in a river, especially after fighting the current the whole way upstream. It’s also amazing how easy it is to miss boulders in the water, even though normally I scour for them because fish hang out around them. Paddling down the river full speed, I see the boulder a few microseconds before my kayak and I ram into it with the full force and speed of the river.

kaBAM! BAMABMAB!

Once again I almost found myself in the river proper, but thanks to my durable kayak and questionable paddling skills, I managed to stay afloat and in the boat. I seem to remember a particular curse word coming out of my mouth repeatedly as I sped toward the rock, but that didn’t stop my kayak from ramming the boulder. I was glad to have the kayak I had, and not a more fragile fiberglass one that might have just shattered on that rock.

I continued downstream as the rain picked up even more. It’s a very interesting sound, surrounded by water as the rain falls- it would have been more pleasing if I hadn’t been getting soaked and carefully watching for more boulders as I sped down the river. I quickly passed the two fly fisher-people (a man and a lady) who were huddled under an overhanging tree. As the rain pelted the top of my kayak loudly, I decided it would be a good idea to find some shelter under some trees as well.

I found an area with overhanging trees that happened to be full of rocks that seemed to be close to deeper water. Seemed like a spot I’d be in if I were a fish- I figured the rain might knock bugs off the trees into the water, not to mention the near safety of deeper water and possible crayfish in the rocks.

First cast with the white twister, right into some submerged branches, and I’d hooked into my first kayak bass!

Although I’ve caught bluegill, perch, and even catfish in the yak, I had yet to catch a bass. I did hook into a real nice one at Busse, but I couldn’t maintain the tension and it threw the hook at the last moment.

This time was different- this smallie was clearly a little lethargic, and quickly tired out. It ran a few times, but I managed to keep him on the little hook. Excited, overjoyed, I hauled in my scrappy catch over the side and into the kayak. I caught a fish!

the single fish of the day.. a beauty

Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing wrong; I commonly read of 5-10 fish caught per outing, even in this cold weather… And I’m lucky to tangle with even one. I chalk it up to lack of experience and technique- I hope someday to make multiple-fish outings a regular occurrence.

But when I looked at this fish, this beautifully patterned smallmouth bass, it was all good. I coaxed him out of hiding, tricked him into thinking my little bit of metal and plastic was food. Out of the 90% of water where there probably weren’t any fish, I somehow fished the 10% where they were. Success! It certainly doesn’t hurt to have people like Sam giving me tips.

I worked that spot for at least 45 minutes after that fish, the rain collecting in the trees and falling into the river in much bigger drops. Falling onto my head too. I paddled to a few other spots, I found a trench where walleye might hide (?) and made a mental note of it for later. The other anglers told me they pulled 4 smallies out of the rocky area where I got the one- later I wondered if I should have downsized my presentation to get more fish…

I was completely soaked, there was a growing pool of water in my kayak, and the rain showed no signs of stopping. I made the call to call it a day. It was only when I took off my various layers of soaking wet outwear I realized how wet I had gotten! My baseball cap weighed at least 20 pounds due to all the water; I could barely lift up my flannel. All in all a great outing, very instructive, and perhaps a nice story too.

the two of us together
(notice the rain-soaked flannel)


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